Richard and Judy picks 2

The list this year for the Richard and Judy WHSMITH bookclub is really impressive and we review the second batch of four in brief to help you choose your next read from the list.

bones of youEngland – Sussex

The Bones of You

Debbie Howells

This is the ultimate – you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors kind of novel. The one where you’re thinking some people have the most perfect lives until you realise differently. The village life in England seems perfect, the fact that the missing girl has a nice family life, people go horse riding together etc

This is more of a character study than a booktrail book but it’s the family insight was what got me. What you think you see and what actually exists. How appearances can be deceptive. It’s a bit like Lovely Bones too as the dead girl Rosie talks to you the reader from time to time and describes events that Kate, a neighbour and friend is finding out.

Susan

MasonLos Angeles

The Samaritan

Mason Cross

A man praying on lone female drivers in LA – and acting as a Samaritan is the ultimate monster really when you thin about it. someone who seems to want to help and then does the exact opposite.

I think what made it even more of a thriller was the fact that the locations – LA and the Santa Monica mountains are the very palaces that would be scary to drive through on your own. I think everyone not just women is scared of something happening like this. The hunt for the person responsible is a real thriller and  the reveal of the victims and how and why this is being done… well  when you read about Carter Blake and the ways he sets about tracking down the Samaritan was a road trip that was very violent in place and sickening to a large extent but the thriller thread wove all the way through for me.

Susan

movingMoving

England

Jenny Eclair

Not so much a booktrail but a novel all about family, ghosts of the past and people. A house opens up it doors for a viewing and the woman who lives there guides him round with each room revealing a secret or two as well as many memories. The house transports her back to her early life and the fifty so years she’s lived in the house. As well as the boxes of possessions, she’s packing away the memories and nostalgia as well and this is harder to let go off. Some are nice memories to recall whilst others not so much.

Edwina is not the only one with a claim to this house though – others in the family tell their story and the house suddenly takes on more colour, fabric of their lives and the tears and holes within

The house is a major character itself and written with the wit, charm of Jenny Eclair, this is a real winner for me. I could hear her talk as I read the book and am sure this really gave it the edge!

Clare

our endless numbered daysEurope – in a forest..

Our Endless Numbered Days

Claire Fuller

It was the fairytale aspect of the story which got me in the first place. The idea of the Hansel and Gretel cottage in the middle of the forest where a girl is taken by her father to live. The forest is huge and dark and they have to find food by foraging like animals, killing and hunting to survive. The Girl, Peggy is only 8 and has been told by her father who is a survivalist, that the end of the world is nigh. There are still people who live like this in America – who prepare for the end and the hut is going to be their salvation. Life is good for  a while but the reasons for his rift with his wife and the hardship of having to life so basic, the mindset of the father himself becomes even more harsh and difficult. The story is told by Peggy as she grows up and I was shocked at the end. This was a dark fairytale with lots of hidden meaning and a reason not to go into the woods anytime soon.

Clare

Susan and Clare

Las Vegas – Shopaholic to the rescue – Sophie Kinsella

sophie kinsellaWhy a booktrail?

2000s – Travelling across the Las Vegas desert in an RV to find your missing father may not be the best idea Becky’s ever had…

Story

Becky Bloomwood is the shopaholic of the title who in previous outings has been the bane of her family and especially her bank manager’s life. Now in this latest offering, she is still in contact with him sending him emails and updates of what she’s up to. He’e even writing a book about his days as a bank manager and of course wants Becky to star in it.

But she’s got other things on her mind. Her father has gone missing . Last heard from travelling to Las Vegas where he and a friend have gone “in order to take care of something”

Like a credit card in the middle of a department store sale, Becky is dying to get out there. Las Vegas should be very afraid

Place and Setting

Las Vegas *Bellagio hotel Becky and her friends have breakfast here. The fountains here are a landmark too! *Caesars palace The hotel with a Roman theme where the shopping is fantastic *A Little White Wedding Chapel This just had to be in a visit to Las Vegas if Becky is involved!
Las Vegas
*Bellagio hotel
Becky and her friends have breakfast here. The fountains here are a landmark too!
*Caesars palace
The hotel with a Roman theme where the shopping is fantastic
*A Little White Wedding Chapel
This just had to be in a visit to Las Vegas if Becky is involved!

 

This is Las Vegas but not as you know it. This is Las Vegas seen through the eyes of Becky Brandon née Bloomwood and so when the novel opens with them getting stopped by the police in the middle of the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas, you know things are not going to go well.

The Becky bus is filled with characters you would not want on a long road trip across the US, but thankfully they’re only going as far as Las Vegas. Dad has a map from 1972 which traces a route from LA to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon so Becky follows hot on his heels to find them.

Husband Luke drives the RV in and around Las Vegas as the trail goes hot and cold and the diversions ever more wacky. From breakfast at the Bellagio to staying in the Venetian Palace, seeing Las Vegas through the eyes of a (former?) shopaholic is a novel way of seeing the city of sin. As Sin seems to have been replaced with ‘Milkshake cows’ ‘Vogue for Guns’ and reenacting various scenes from the Ocean’s 11 movie.  George Clooney sadly does not make an appearance nor does Brad Pitt.

Oh and Becky being Becky manages to find herself at the Elvis Wedding Chapel to see the finer points of Las Vegas City. She gets involved with dancing, casino gambling, drinking, the local culture, the wild and wacky hotels and discovers that ‘ you can’t line dance in flip flops”

And all the while, she’s supposed to be finding her father! But there’s a plan for that…

Review

I’d only read the first three of the Shopaholic series and well, things have changed haven’t they? Easy to follow though as if you understand Becky’s mindset from the first books and her random thoughts as they continue to veer left and right  – much like the journey across the desert in a RV.

Going on a journey across the USA – well not technically as it’s from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, there are so many ways that a girl and her friends travelling in an RV can get into trouble. And she does. Becky is very accident prone and well gets into muddles you would never expect. You do have to suspend disbelief at points but then this is Becky isn’t it and she has somewhat of a reputation.

She’s not so much a shopaholic in this book as a travel guide with a difference on the lookout for an runaway dad. A crazy girl on a crazy adventure in perhaps one of the craziest cities in the US. I did enjoy the trail side to the story as they crossed the Nevada desert in the search of someone but I think I need to read more of the earlier books to get more out of this one.

I did keep imaging  Isla Fisher in the scenes though and as the star of the show, if this were a future movie, she would have great fun filming this!

New York 1848 – The Fatal Flame – Lyndsay Faye

Fatal flame

Why a booktrail?

1848 – New York has always been the city that never sleeps but in 1848 it didn’t even have a chance – the violence and the fires kept everyone awake…

Story

New York in 1848 was a dangerous dark place to be. The notorious Five Points a pivotal part of 1840’s New York and the birth of its Copper Stars are once again the scene of dramatic intrigue and this time…arson

Copper star Timothy Wilde hates fire more than most since his family was killed in one and gave him a permanent scar. But this latest case sees him looking right into the heart of the flame – fires re being started ion the streets of the city for some kind of revenge and Wilde has to find out why quickly before the entire city goes up in flames.

It’s not going to be easy though – there is a lot to stoke the fires – stories of Revenge, murder and blackmail as well as past events from the first two novels in the series.

The Fatal Flame is a hotbed of explosive situations..

Place and setting

Five Points/The Tombs The Tombs - The Five points was the area around the areas of Civic Center and Chinatown. It occupied a full block, surrounded by Centre, Franklin Street, Elm -today's Lafayette, and Leonard Street. Today the Manhattan Detention center is there in White Street. Pell Street The site of the first fire The orphanage The orphanage - The Catholic Orphan Asylum is at the corner of Prince and Mott Street. The famous Bowery is said to be two blocks east. Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street made up the area known as the Burnt District. This was where the textile manfacturing was centered. Cedar Street is about two blocks to the right.  Elizabeth Street The home of Detective Timothy Wilde  Thomas Street The home of Sally Woods Queen Mabs The brothel was located on the corner of Rose Street and Frankfort
Five Points/The Tombs
The Tombs – The Five points was the area around the areas of Civic Center and Chinatown. It occupied a full block, surrounded by Centre, Franklin Street, Elm -today’s Lafayette, and Leonard Street. Today the Manhattan Detention center is there in White Street.
Pell Street
The site of the first fire
The orphanage
The orphanage – The Catholic Orphan Asylum is at the corner of Prince and Mott Street. The famous Bowery is said to be two blocks east.
Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street Nassau St and nearby Cedar Street made up the area known as the Burnt District. This was where the textile manfacturing was centered. Cedar Street is about two blocks to the right.
Elizabeth Street The home of Detective Timothy Wilde
Thomas Street The home of Sally Woods Queen Mabs The brothel was located on the corner of Rose Street and Frankfort

This the city that never sleeps – just as well as it certainly needs to keep at least one eye open as an arsonist seems to be on a rampage around the city torching it at will.

New York policing and politics

The peculiarities of mid-19th century NYC politics and the formation of the New York police force are recreated vividly as are the workings of Tammany Hall – the Democratic political machine that dominated NYC politics at the time. Those fighting for high office did just that – fight – and the ‘war’ between them and the people, the police, was dirty, tiring and a battle of wills. Piest for example is described –

“as honest as the frayed cuffs on his frock coat”

Timothy Wilde however is the man to bring the copper stars, the Five Points, the Tomb and the struggle of police officers in such a desperate city to life. With the use of the Flash language, that used by criminals at the time and documented by the chief of police George Matsell, this is a history lesson which fully submerges you in time and place.

New York city 1848..

Newspaper snippets, political documents, and words from various sources open up each chapter giving an insight into the mood, opinion and politics of the time. In the following chapter a window opens up on women’s rights, the subject of mental health and the frightening truth that someone is lighting fires across the city and many people are dying whilst others are in danger.

This is a city of character  and it’s a character in its own right – the neighbourhoods, the brothels (mab houses) and manufacturing factories are full of noise, sweat, toil and dirt. Pigs wander the streets munching on anything they find. The tenements and the living conditions of people are symbols of various degrees of poverty -women especially have a raw deal and are constantly under the control of men, wild characters with no regard for their health and safety. Working conditions, if that’s what they can be described as, are not worth the paper they are written on.

Women in the city

Women worked as sewing girls in the Bowery or on the streets and the men who run these places are nasty characters with no morals. Life is one long, harsh struggle for almost everyone and particularly the case  if you’re female, Irish or coloured. Working conditions for seamstresses  – those enough lucky enough not to be forced into prostitution – were inexistant and conditions unregulated,wages minimal.

Review

This is exactly the kind of book to read if you love to fully immerse yourself into time and place. The level of research that Lyndsay Faye must have done to get such small details as authentic as they come is staggering and despite not knowing much at all about New York history before reading all three of her novels, I feel as if I’ve learned more via her books than any history lesson could have taught me. This books is akin to no ordinarily history lesson however – oh no – but rather like stepping into the past and wandering around the streets, with the odeur of dirt in your nose, the muck on your feet and the fear on the back of your neck.

How fascinating are the early years of the Copper Stars, the growth of the police force, the birth of Flash, the figure of George Matsell. Oh and my new friends –  Jim, Mercy, Symmes, Piest, Sally, Dunly, Mrs. Grimshaw, Tim and Val. Please don’t let this be the last in the series, I’m going to miss you all too much.

This needs to be on the big screen right now.

Susan Booktrailer

Across the States – literary style

USA Tour Today!

MAPS

Now America is a big place that goes without saying but even just by choosing a few select places across any of the 50 states, you can really see and experience a lot of what this vast country has to offer.

Let’s start with a  literary journey with a difference. Once inspired by real events and to guide you around? The wonderful Judy Blume:

Elizabeth, New Jersey

in-the-unlikely-event_248wFrom the author of Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Judy Blume takes us to New Jersey and a story for adults about how life goes on despite everything.

Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown to mark the anniversary of the worst year of her life. Aged fifteen, she remembers the carefree time of her first time in love. But this was the 1950s when plane travel was new and exciting, when three planes fell from the sky within three months of each other. This  was when her life changed as did everyone else’s in that community.

Judy Blume writes a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives were changed that day. Some people brought closer together and others fell apart. But that day has never been forgotten.

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/in-the-unlikely-event-new-jersey-judy-blume/

The Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Grab your woolies for the next leg of the journey as we’re off to Alaska

all-this-will-belostThe story of a little known event in the second world war which took place in the Aleutian islands of Alaska

June 3, 1942.

No one would think that this tiny and far away place, so distant from the centre of the WW2 would become embroiled in an international situation but on this day it did. For it was on this day that the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This was the start of a war which saw some 2500 Japanese troops invade the islands capturing those of Attu and Kiska.

Against this backdrop, married couple John and Helen are separated by the needs of war. John is war journalist covering events whilst his wife Helen remains back in Seattle.

When John’s plane is shot down, he must decide if to surrender or to survive in the Alaskan wilderness before trying to return home.

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/all-this-will-be-lost-alaska-aleutian-islands-brian-payton/

Now – off to New York

church-of-marveslsThe city that never sleeps!

See it in a whole new light…..

Roll up roll up for what you are about to see will surprise you, shock you and never leave your mind. Are you ready to enter the Church of Marvels…..well, are you?

New York, 1895. The Church of Marvels

The Church of Marvels can be a dangerous place to be. Owned by Friendship Willingbird Church, her two daughters Odile and Belle performed every night. Belle the star of the show as ‘the shape shifter’ and Odile ‘the girl on the wheel’. But now their dreams as well as the sideshow lie in ashes, razed to the ground. Their mother dead and Belle missing.

Over the water, in Blackwell’s lunatic asylum, Alphie wakes up groggy and confused. How did she get here and why isn’t her husband demanding her release? And just who is that strange girl in the corner who refuses to speak?

Back in the ashes of Coney Island, a young man, Sylvan Threadgill works as a privy cleaner. One night he comes across an abandoned new born baby. Since he is an orphan himself, he takes the baby under his wing and vows to track down its mother.

One night, a lot can happen in the Church of Marvels and a great deal more can happen as a result….

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/church-of-marvels-coney-island-nyc-leslie-parry/

Finally…if you dare

New Orleans

the-axemans-jazzBased upon a real unsolved crime – when a killer dubbed, “the New Orleans Axeman” murdered several people between 1918-1919.

Journalist John Riley receives the now infamous letter supposedly from the Axman saying that he is to pass through the city but will spare anyone playing jazz music.

Now back to a few months prior to the letter being sent, with the murders having already started –many victims have already been found butchered, many of the Sicilian grocery store owners. The doors always seemed tp be locked from the inside proving mad theories to emerge as to who this axeman was some kind of phantom –

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/the-axemans-jazz-new-orleans/

In the Unlikely Event – New Jersey – Judy Blume

In-The-Unlikely-Event_248w

Why a booktrail?

From the author of Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Judy Blume takes us to New Jersey and a story for adults about how life goes on despite everything.

Story in a nutshell

1987, Elizabeth, New Jersey

Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown to mark the anniversary of the worst year of her life. Aged fifteen, she remembers the carefree time of her first time in love. But this was the 1950s when plane travel was new and exciting, when three planes fell from the sky within three months of each other. This  was when her life changed as did everyone else’s in that community.

Judy Blume writes a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives were changed that day. Some people brought closer together and others fell apart. But that day has never been forgotten.

Place and setting

Sayre Street - where Rusty lives East Jersey Street Where Steve and Phil were shooting baskets Shelley Avenue where the Osners house is Elizabeth River. Newark airport The airport in question Hamilton Junior High The school Judy attended as a child
Sayre Street – where Rusty lives
East Jersey Street
Where Steve and Phil were shooting baskets
Shelley Avenue
where the Osners house is
Elizabeth River.
Newark airport
The airport in question
Hamilton Junior High
The school Judy attended as a child

Amazingly, the premise of three plane crashes within a short space of time actually happened in Elizabeth ,New Jersey, the hometown of the author. Judy writes on her blog that it was a scary time and there was fear and panic in many people as they tried to work out what was going on.

So soon after the war, could it be a link to terrorism? Aliens? These and more conspiracy theories are the premise of In the Unlikely Event. How do people cope and move on after such an event. And mark its anniversary?

Back in the fifties, plane travel was unknown and exciting, something most people only dreamed of. So when three planes go down in a short space of time, the effects are harrowing.

Miri is Blume’s fictional alter ego (she’s the same age as the author was at the time of the accidents), and she is the one at the heart and centre of the story. As the journalist on the case says –

“I’m talking to anyone who has a story to tell, and so far, that’s pretty much everyone.”

What follows is a struggle to survive and cope with life now that the world has changed.  There are some scary moments when the planes hit – the first plane narrowly misses a building where a group of 100 children are gathered; the second skims the roof of a high school, shortly after the girls leave for the day; and the final plane actually crashes only yards from a children’s home –

a  “muddy, bloodstained junkyard”.

Accounts of the real plane crashes can be found here – 

http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/12/judy_blume_novel_elizabeth_plane_crash_in_the_unlikely_event.html

Bookish musings

A Judy Blume book is always an event. Ah my childhood and even adult life has been marked quite happily by the Blume books. So to read this was a real treat.

I couldn’t believe that this was a true story and that it is essentially Judy’s own story of an event which took place when she was a child herself.

Now aged 77, she revisits these painful and confusing memories and constructs a novel that not only explores them but shows how such memories can haunt and linger for years. How one event is viewed and remembered by a community is quite fascinating.

I felt as if I was really getting to know the author during a painful time in her life and it felt like a privilege of sorts. This was the woman who would bring so much joy to readers later on, going back to tell us one of her own life stories.

She completely captures the sense and time of the 50s. Lots of little, intricate details which paint a vivid picture of those years; the lifestyle, habits, food, things people said and did. The dawn of air travel…

Judy, you’ve done it again. All her trademarks are there and more. Quite a unique novel as it’s written with such a personal flavour as well as the Blume artistic flair, warmth and humanity.

Haunting and poignant in equal measure.

All This Will Be Lost – Alaska – Aleutian Islands – Brian Payton

All this will belost

Why a booktrail?

The story of a little known event in the second world war which took place in the Aleutian islands of Alaska

Story in a nutshell

June 3, 1942.

The Aleutian Islands, Alaska

No one would think that this tiny and far away place, so distant from the centre of the WW2 would become embroiled in an international situation but on this day it did. For it was on this day that the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This was the start of a war which saw some 2500 Japanese troops invade the islands capturing those of Attu and Kiska.

Against this backdrop, married couple John and Helen are separated by the needs of war. John is war journalist covering events whilst his wife Helen remains back in Seattle.

When John’s plane is shot down, he must decide if to surrender or to survive in the Alaskan wilderness before trying to return home.

Place and setting

alaska-map-one

Attu The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943 Kiska The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943 Dutch harbour The Imperial navy bombed this area which started the invasion Pribilof islands (St Paul) People here were evacuated by the US military and takes to south east Alaska where they were interned.
Attu
The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943
Kiska
The island which was bombed in the Aleutian campaign of 1943
Dutch harbour
The Imperial navy bombed this area which started the invasion
Pribilof islands (St Paul)
People here were evacuated by the US military and takes to south east Alaska where they were interned.

The Alaskan wilderness – 

“The fog is better than an ally; it is a close personal friend. It covers his mistakes and spreads its protective wing over him, allowing him to escape detection”

Snow, Fog and the occasional report of Japanese antiaircraft are the only things to define space and time in this cold and unforgiving place. The fog misdirects those it envelopes and distorts the image of your surroundings. It also risks revealing the location of John, the missing war correspondent whose plane has just been shot down. He is there to avenge his brothers death in the Canadian air force

This is a rural and brutal landscape at the best of times but during war time especially so.

That night up in the nest, the boy pulls the parachute to his chin. Storm’s blowin in,” he observes. Easley listens to the fury of the williwaw, the signature gale of the Aleutians

This wind which ‘becomes an avalanche, a full stampeded of sound and sensation that strips the moisture from your eyes, bullies and casts you to the ground.

This is the landscape which acts as the prison John now finds himself in. With the brutality of  war ever present, the story of the Japanese invasion is evoked with raw, naked emotion. The Aleutian Islands must surely be one of the harshest places on earth for survival. How to find one man amidst all this silence and isolation?

This is a part of the world forgotten or blacked out by history – glimpses of the conditions of the American soldiers in WWII in the North Pacific are raw and poignant. Conditions and evacuations of the Aleut Indian natives also help to evoke a time and place little written  about elsewhere.

Such a significant time in US history. When the US forces attempt to take back the island……the result is like having a bird’s eye view of a real piece of US history.

Seattle

Life in Seattle may be far removed from war time bombings yet the isolation felt by Helen as she waits for new from her husband is as isolating as any prison.

At the library she examines the papers for any mention of Alaska

No news and no idea of where he is. Always a couple, now she is forced to live a new life and a very different one with its own set of challenges. She finds strength in her faith and religious beliefs but her life in the dark is a lonely one. So it’s not long before she sets out to Alaska herself to discover the truth.

Bookish musings

A wonderfully evocative novel of a fictional love story  – but not the soppy kind – this one shows the feelings of loss and struggle from both sides of the war – mixed with the very real historical backdrop

I knew nothing of this battle in the war and although had heard of the islands had little knowledge of the landscape there. Well, it was an unforgiving place in WW2 and like the best survival stories, this has all the fictional and factual strands to weave a very believable and challenging tale.

I’d never been to this part of the world before either via a book or for real but now I feel I have tasted the snow, heard the planes and felt the utter despair of having to hide from an invisible enemy.

The struggle of those involved on all sides was heartbreaking to read but inspiring at the same time. The section about the dog and how its written to show  the state of humanity  and what a man is willing to do in order to survive is particularly powerful.

Church of Marvels – Coney Island, NYC – Leslie Parry

church of marvesls

Why a booktrail?

Roll up roll up for what you are about to see will surprise you, shock you and never leave your mind. Are you ready to enter the Church of Marvels…..well, are you?

Story in a nutshell

New York, 1895. The Church of Marvels

The Church of Marvels can be a dangerous place to be. Owned by Friendship Willingbird Church, her two daughters Odile and Belle performed every night. Belle the star of the show as ‘the shape shifter’ and Odile ‘the girl on the wheel’. But now their dreams as well as the sideshow lie in ashes, razed tp the ground. Their mother dead and Belle missing.

Over the water, in Blackwell’s lunatic asylum, Alphie wakes up groggy and confused. How did she get here and why isn’t her husband demanding her release? And just who is that strange girl in the corner who refuses to speak?

Back in the ashes of Coney Island, a young man, Sylvan Threadgill works as a privy cleaner. One night he comes across an abandoned new born baby. Since he is an orphan himself, he takes the baby under his wing and vows to track down its mother.

One night, a lot can happen in the Church of Marvels and a great deal more can happen as a result….

Place and setting

Coney island Where the church of Marvels once stood Black well’s island (Roosevelt island) Located in the East River, Blackwell's Island was renamed Welfare Island in 1921 and Roosevelt Island in 1973. There has been a prison, an insane asylum and hospitals here. and is where we meet Alphine Broome street Where Sylvan finds the baby Ludlow street Sylvan’s home Doyers Street Searching for Belle takes the trail here Orchard and Broome (91 orchard) A significant spot in the novel
Coney Island
Where the church of Marvels once stood
Blackwell’s Island (Roosevelt island)
Located in the East River, Blackwell’s Island was renamed Welfare Island in 1921 and Roosevelt Island in 1973. There has been a prison, an insane asylum and hospitals here. and is where we meet Alphine
Broome street
Where Sylvan finds the baby
Ludlow street
Sylvan’s home
Doyers Street
Searching for Belle takes the trail here
Orchard and Broome (91 orchard)
A significant spot in the novel

Roll up roll up for Turn of the century New York city is the real star of the show. There’s a lot to see here –  a whole host of diverse and fascinating characters, performers in a sideshow, animals, a shape shifter, Georgette, with her extra set of legs; Aldovar, half man/half woman and Leland the “dwarf.”

Coney Island is the place to be – you’ll see the world go by by standing on Coney island.  A place of fun and amusement but dark deeds as we venture behind the glittering facade into the depths of New York City….

From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded, dirty side streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, this night will link three very different people together for life. And the animals too, don’t forget these creatures –

“Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.”

From Broome Street to Ludlow street –  When Sylvan finds the baby, he takes her home and tries to find the mother,a  journey which takes him into the darkest corners of the city.

The island – This is no time to be a woman for one – Belle is missing, gone on the run into Manhattan and another is imprisoned in an asylum on Blackwell island. Now renamed Roosevelt island, this was the site of the first asyulm in New York. The scenes here are shocking and raw. The treatment of those incarcerated will chill you as it did us. All the more shocking if based on true fact or even just research.

‘The heady stench – horseshit and roasting chestnuts and trash barrels pulsing with maggots.”

Meanwhile, Belle, escapes into the bowels of Manhattan. this is no world for a woman and least of all one trying to escape her past. The trail takes her to many places around Manhattan  – Doyers Street or maybe the weaver on  Cherry Street can help?

These three characters will show you sides of New York that you have never seen before and will never see again. Their world is vibrant yet solemn, colourful and yet dark but utterly compelling.

“For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows.”

Bookish musings

Loved this! So evocative of a time and place gone by but a fascinating one that you might not want to go to for real for what you might see, but where you will end up anyway when the magic of Coney Island hits you.

The stories which wove in and out of the side streets, the islands and the nooks and crannies of this fascinating place were a real mix which painted and illuminated a picture of New York in times past. a time where you could do and be anything unless if you were a woman it would seem. The scenes in the asylum were difficult to read and very emotional but they provide a shockingly accurate account of what went on.

Not sure what I liked best – story, characters or setting. Spoilt for choice – like being in a real Church of Marvels, I didn’t know where to look first and was captivated until I left.  A literary visit which will linger for a long while to come.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Coney Island, New York – Alice Hoffman

the-museum-of-extraordinary-things-9781471112157_hr

Why a booktrail?

Delve into the world of freak shows and magical illusions as we go back to the early days of Coney Island and the New York sites of magic, intrigue and murder…

Story in a nutshell

A story with magic in the air and freak shows in the side streets. Where a web fingered mermaid, Coralie, works in her father’s museum of extraordinary things collecting unusual artifacts and even stranger people to showcase to the masses.

With the public fascination for all things gothic, gruesome and fantastical, the museum grows but disaster is not far behind and Coralie wishes for something more.

At the same time, A jewish immigrant struggles to escape his past and explores the city’s underbelly as a photographer and later detective of sorts. He is skilled at finding the unexpected and delving into places of the city no one dares to go.

When he and the web fingered mermaid meet, theirs is a tale of the most strange and intriguing of all.

Place and setting

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire , Asch building The building was located at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich village neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s now part of NYC university and is known as the brown building. Manhattan - 10th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue Known as Death avenue for the violence, deadly tram rides and the general sense of unease Hudson river Where Coralie loves to swim and where she feels her most free Central Park “Once a boggy area good only for goats and piggeries and later populated by squatters....had been made into an opulent playground for the residents of the residents of the luxurious town houses of the East Side” The Coney Island Dreamland fairground The site of the fair was located where the NYC Aquarium is now at the corner of Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street Huber’s Dime museum on East 14th street - http://showhistory.com/show-type/dime-museum This is a great site for seeing the magical and mystical side of New York! Known at the time for being a purveyor of the strange and unique
The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire , Asch building
The building was located at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich village neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s now part of NYC university and is known as the brown building.
Manhattan – 10th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue
Known as Death avenue for the violence, deadly tram rides and the general sense of unease
Hudson river
Where Coralie loves to swim and where she feels her most free
Central Park
“Once a boggy area good only for goats and piggeries and later populated by squatters….had been made into an opulent playground for the residents of the residents of the luxurious town houses of the East Side”
The Coney Island Dreamland fairground
The site of the fair was located where the NYC Aquarium is now at the corner of Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street
Huber’s Dime museum on East 14th street – http://showhistory.com/show-type/dime-museum This is a great site for seeing the magical and mystical side of New York!
Known at the time for being a purveyor of the strange and unique

Coney Island 1911

The world of gothic horror, the freak shows, Wolfman and the conjoined twins which people flock to see,marvel and mock.

You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has even seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.

But it’s not as we delve straight in the world that Alice Hoffman has recreated with use of fiction and even more fantastical fact. Coney island 1911 – Two things happened that year in real life and this book weaves them in to a magical tapestry that is as fantastical and magical as the freak shows it describes that you may not think any of this could be true.

But then fact is often stranger than fiction

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire – Asch Building, Washington place

Eddie is the photographer who documents the horror of this night when so many people died. This was  real life disaster which shows the brutal conditions of the time when factory workers would lock workers inside to prevent them taking breaks.

The chaos and demand for greater safely stands and workers unions showed the scale of the disaster, the working conditions of the time and the busy chaotic and harsh working life in New York at that time.

In some ways,the museum of Extraordinary Things seemed much safer.

The Dreamland Amusement Park fire on Coney Island on May 27, 1911.

William H. Reynolds, a state senator at the time designed the park to compete with Luna Park  as entertainment in 1911, as Coralie and her father realise, is changing and people want different things.

This park was to be bigger and better than anything and would feature a a railway that ran through a Swiss alpine landscape, fake Venetian canals and a miniature world with dwarf inhabitants

The Museum of Extraordinary things

But its the world of the freak shows, of the circus acts and the strange people which the people of New York shunned in society but paid to look at in a show which sparkles, crackles off the page to the sound of the fair ground music in the background –

There before me were the treasures my father had collected over the years: the had with eight fingers, the human skull with horns, the preserved remains of a scarlet -colored bird called a spoonbill

Yet I knew that life spent inside a museum is not a life like any other

Coralie Sardie has live in this world of wonder and gothic horror and her father later makes her part of the exhibition herself. She joins the long list of acts from the conjoined twins, to the Wolfman who enjoys the wonders of Walt Whitman and Jane Eyre for the way in which the novel reflects his own feeling of being locked away and mocked by society. Such people have feelings and it’s heartbreaking to read how society made them into circus freaks to be mocked. How must it felt to have been cast aside and mocked because of a disability or deformity?

A world of wonder, magic and gothic curiosity abound.

Bookish musings

A love story with a very unique and fantastical background. One to marvel and exclaim at. There is so much in this novel that it is like being at a fair ground with your eyes darting left and right, something happening on the side lines, the wonder of not knowing what to expect.

A fantastical read and an even greater journey into Coney island and its many faces in 1911. What a world of exquisite detail Alice has created and how strange that some is true!

The story of Coralie and Eddie is the main thread but the story of the island and its entertainment – the museum, Coralie’s fate and the horror of how society treated some of its most vulnerable really is quite shocking.

The characters are extremely memorable and everyone from the wolfman to Mitts the dog is well rounded and full of life. Hermit Jacob Van De Beck is sly but extremely funny at times and his views on events is an eye opener!

A new world and a wholly immersive experience to marvel at!

One Night in Mississippi – Mississippi, USA – Craig Shreve

one night in misssippi

Why a booktrail?

A dark period of American history. A family torn apart by the events in Mississippi and a brother’s desperate search for the truth

Story in a nutshell

One Night in Mississippi is the story of Graden Williams and his brother Warren. When Graden is murdered one night in Mississippi, the brutality of the crime is shocking and so Warren dedicates his life to getting justice.

Warren suffers heavily with guilt and regret, angry that those responsible got away with the crime. More than forty years after the death, laws are changing and so Warren may have the best chance yet of avenging his brother’s death.

He’s angry and wants answers so his search for the one man still at large takes him to a small town in Northern Ontario, Canada but what he finds there is not what he expects and he is forced to question what he has always held to be the truth.

Place and setting

 MISSISSIPPI - Jackson - Mississippi State Capitol MISSISSIPPI - Jackson - Jackson Municipal Court ILLINOIS- Chicago Jackson park Where Warren sits in his dream and thinks of freedom ILLINOIS - CHICAGO - Loyola University where Warren studies PHILADELPHIA - The home of the Liberty Bell and where Etta lives

MISSISSIPPI – Jackson –
Mississippi State Capitol
MISSISSIPPI – Jackson – Jackson Municipal Court
ILLINOIS- Chicago Jackson park
Where Warren sits in his dream and thinks of freedom
ILLINOIS – CHICAGO – Loyola University
where Warren studies
PHILADELPHIA – The home of the Liberty Bell and where Etta lives

1960s Mississippi – A shocking and brutal time in American history

In Mississippi , I learned that I was poor

Graden Williams is kidnapped one evening, tortured and cruelly dumped in a swamp. Warren never forgets this and spends all his life avenging his brother. why were the riots started in the first place and why were the 1960s such a time of hatred and racism?

Mississippi in the 1960s was a time of racial inequality and it was a time when  people from the northern states would come to the South in order to get people behind their cause – fighting for racial equality and standing up for their cause. However well intentioned this groups were, the result was chaos, dangerous confrontations between white and black people in the street and the wrath of the white ruling elite.

The summer before Graden died, I sat beside him on a crowded school bus on its way to Jackson, There had been two meetings since the one that I had attended…

Such a world is hard to imagine yet it is evoked with such clarity here that you feel the pain and anger at every turn. Warren wants justice for his brother, questions why more white people don’t help – were they afraid and also threatened? – and vows to hunt the men responsible down.

In present day Ontario, in  a small (fictional)  town called Amblan, one of the gang responsible  – Earl still lives. His guilt at having been involved in that shameful episode comes back to haunt him and when the two men finally meet, Warren’s journey is far from over.

Two sobering viewpoints of a shameful time in history and of two men who come together and face up to their guilt and their part in it. for more information on this period and the Freedom summer efforts of 1964 which inspired this novel – http://mdah.state.ms.us or www.freedom50.org

Bookish musings

A short but sobering book and a unique viewpoint of two men who are on two different sides  and who were both affected by the events which unfolded. Short sparse prose really gets the events to stand out and shock even more. Hard at times due to the violence and even that which you didn’t see. I learned from this book and found the humanity and the hope within it a humbling read.